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In the case of the Chinese, there is continuity, with gaps that can at least partially be filled in, between the earliest extant writing and that of the present day.

And given the considerable amount of archaeological work going on in China and the exciting finds that have been made in recent years, there is hope of being able to fill in more gaps.

In contrast, the inscriptions on bones and shells are much more informative.

This is due only in part to their somewhat greater length, for most of the texts are less than 15 characters in length, and very few exceed 50 characters (Micke1196).

These are pictographs often encased in a sort of rectangular cartouche that is reminiscent of those found in Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions containing the names of royal personages.

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Thus the second most important group, those on bronze vessels, consist in part of so-called "clan-name" inscriptions.

There are two opposing views of the matter based on different explanations for the emergence of civilized societies and the existence of specific elements of culture, including writing.

One approach stresses "independent invention," the other "stimulus diffusion." Chinese scholars tend to espouse the first approach.

In support of this thesis, diffusionists cite evidence of borrowing of some other specific cultural items to prove the borrowing of the idea of writing. Gordon states that "China heard about casting bronze from the West; and what impelled China to invent her own system of writing was diffusion of the idea from the Near East" (Gordon 19). The borrowing of one item-if it really is a case of borrowing-does not necessarily prove the borrowing of another, though to be sure evidence of extensive borrowing is suggestive.

Conversely, when instances of alleged influence are shown to be based on dubious scholarship, this saps confidence in the whole approach.

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